Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Hall of Merit > Discussion
Hall of Merit
— A Look at Baseball's All-Time Best

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Phil Niekro

Eligible in 1993.

John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 27, 2006 at 05:09 AM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Related News:

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 27, 2006 at 05:14 AM (#2269128)
It would have been nice if Knucksie had received just half of the ink that Nolan Ryan got throughout his career. That would have been a major (and well deserved) improvement.
   2. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: December 27, 2006 at 05:22 AM (#2269132)
Reprinted from the 1993 ballot discussion:

I just ran Niekro through, and man does he come up looking great. I've got him clearly ahead of Perry, ranked #10 all-time right now. Think anyone in 1993 realized they were looking at one of the 9-15 or so (giving myself room for error) greatest pitchers ever? I don't - he was very underrated.

As for the unearned runs, they do matter, but he pitched behind some terrible defenses, and it basically offsets the unearned runs. I get his career DRA+ at 114, his ERA+ is 115. He's 3rd all-time in translated innings (behind only Young and Johnson).

Also, it was mentioned that his 40+ years weren't too pretty, I'd disagree. Starting in 1979, I get this:

Year RSAR WAR  PA   DRA  tIP
1979  70  7.3 .105 3.76 354.7
1980  38  4.0 .052 4.28 301.7
1981  34  3.5 .045 3.99 223.7
1982  40  4.2 .055 3.95 236.7
1983  16  1.6 .020 4.72 210.0
1984  41  4.3 .056 3.82 221.0
1985  16  1.7 .020 4.83 223.7
1986   5   .5 .006 5.29 227.0
1987   0   .0 .000 5.64 138.7 



Remember, 4.50 is equivalent to a 100 ERA+, 4.29 = 105 ERA+. ERA+ underrates those years.

His peak is enormous - there's a ton of innings, and a very good rate. He was probably the best pitcher in the NL from 1974-79 and no one realized it. I mean in 1978 he turned in a 3.20 DRA (=141 ERA+) with 339 translated innings (280 will typically lead the league). That's just sick. I mean he's a career value guy, but fewer than 20 guys had a better '5th best season' - which means his peak is way up there too.

***************

BTW, Niekro's value after 40 (1979-87) is equivalent to the entire career of Denny McLain, Larry Jansen, Jeff Tesreau, Dennis Leonard - guys like that. Just wild.

But the even funnier thing is that by the end of the 1978 season, he was clearly a HoMer (Pennants Added = to Hal Newhouser or Eppa Rixey) if he never threw another pitch, despite only having 197 wins at that point - that's how good he was. He would have been a borderline candidate (in the Bridges/Pierce area) if he quit after 1977, before his best year.
   3. Cabbage Posted: December 27, 2006 at 05:31 PM (#2269372)
4 minutes of Niekro pitches

Here you are fellas. Youtube highlights might become a lot more common for the coming elections.

I lurk pretty regularly in the HOM threads. I'm in my early 20s and didn't follow baseball regularly until Kerry Wood's 20K game. so I enjoy the history lessons provided in these threads. consider the link a very small token of my appreciation for everything I've learned.


Of course, I'm not too thankful. I probably have more questions now than I did before I started reading. and most of them are comparing someone to Jake Beckley.
   4. Howie Menckel Posted: December 27, 2006 at 06:24 PM (#2269402)
Seems like Niekro is thought of as maybe a Jenkins, or less. Not true.
He's not a Seaver, and not quite a Carlton, but he's a little bit better than Perry - another underrated pitcher.
I will definitely rank Niekro above Rose.

ERA+s, must pitch 154/162 IP, and at least 100 ERA+ that year
SCarlton 182 64 62 51 50 26 19 17 15 13 11 10 06 05 01 01
PhNiekro 177 59 40 40 25 24 23 20 19 18 16 15 15 11 04 03 01
GayPerry 168 44 40 30 25 24 23 23 22 22 21 17 16 16 11 07
FJenkins 143 33 27 27 26 24 23 20 19 19 19 11 04 02 02
ToSeaver 193 75 66 50 45 42 40 37 36 27 23 22 19 15 12 05 05 03
BWalters 168 52 46 40 27 23 07

Carlton top 10 in IP: 1 1 1 1 1 2 3 3 6 7 7 7 9 9
PNiekro top 10 in IP: 1 1 1 1 3 3 4 5 9 10 10
GaPerry top 10 in IP: 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 4 4 4 10
Jenkins top 10 in IP: 1 2 2 2 3 5 5 5 10
TSeaver top 10 in IP: 3 3 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 7 8
Walters top 10 in IP: 1 1 1 4 6 6 8 8

SAMPLE HOM GROUP vs newbies
SCarlton 182 64 62 51 50 26 19 17 15 13 11 10 06 05 01 01
PhNiekro 177 59 40 40 25 24 23 20 19 18 16 15 15 11 04 03 01
RWaddell 179 79 65 53 26 25 23 21 07 02
Marichal 169 66 65 44 32 22 19 16 13 00
JBunning 150 49 43 42 34 32 29 14 14 04
BilPierce 201 48 41 36 33 24 15 13 08 07 07 05 04 03
Drysdale 154 49 40 29 28 22 18 17 15 13
EarlWynn 154 42 36 35 26 18 15 10 09 03

SCarlton top 10 in IP: 1 1 1 1 1 2 3 3 6 7 7 7 9 9
PhNiekro top 10 in IP: 1 1 1 1 3 3 4 5 9 10 10
RWaddell top 10 in IP: 3 4 4 10
Marichal top 10 in IP: 1 1 3 5 5 6 8 8
JBunning top 10 in IP: 1 1 2 2 3 3 4 5 6 8
BiPierce top 10 in IP: 3 3 3 5 5 7
Drysdale top 10 in IP: 1 1 2 2 4 5 5 5 9 9 10
EarlWynn top 10 in IP: 1 1 1 2 2 3 3 6 6 6 6 7
   5. sunnyday2 Posted: December 27, 2006 at 06:32 PM (#2269411)
I never saw Niekro as a great pitcher when he was active. He is one of the guys whose record surprises me now. (See also Evans, Darrell.)
   6. PerroX Posted: December 27, 2006 at 06:43 PM (#2269422)
As a longtime Braves fan, I've always thought Niekro was underrated because he pitched for such bad teams.

Happy to see him getting his due.
   7. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: December 27, 2006 at 11:05 PM (#2269615)
Great stuff cabbage, glad to have you on board! Please keep those coming if you can.

Rawagman and I (mostly him) are working on a an improved plaque room (I now own the domain www.hallofmerit.com), things like that would be great to include . . .
   8. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: December 27, 2006 at 11:11 PM (#2269618)
He was probably the best pitcher in the NL from 1974-79 and no one realized it.


A better description might be 'most valuable', as opposed to 'best'. On any given day, he might not have been the best choice in the league (I haven't checked), but he was so valuable in any season because he was very, very good, and pitched many more innings than anyone else.
   9. Rob_Wood Posted: December 28, 2006 at 04:13 AM (#2269759)
I remember one year (1979, I think) when a friend in college said he'd vote for Niekro for the NL Cy Young.
I said no way, I'd vote for Bruce Sutter over Joe Niekro. My friend said not Joe Niekro, Phil Niekro! I
didn't even think of Phil as a candidate. Looking back, Phil was a viable candidate indeed.
   10. KJOK Posted: December 28, 2006 at 04:56 AM (#2269780)
He's not a Seaver, and not quite a Carlton...

I'd agree he's behind Seaver, but remain unconvinced he didn't provide more value than Carlton.

RSAA
Niekro - 322
Carlton -282

Win Shares
Niekro - 374
Carlton - 366

WARP1
Nierko - 141
Carlton - 131

and as Joe pointed out, Niekro's peak is 'enormous'....
   11. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: December 28, 2006 at 07:24 AM (#2269851)
From my perspective KJOK, I have Carlton ahead slightly, his hitting (+29 Runs Above Replacement, to -9 for Niekro) is enough to tip the scales - I had Niekro ahead very slightly as a pitcher.

PRAR - Niekro 931, Carlton 903
BRAR - Carlton 29, Niekro -9
RAR - Carlton 932, Niekro 922

WAR - Carlton 97.5, Niekro 96.4

Peak:
Top 3 Consecutive - Carlton 24.7, Niekro 23.7
Top 5 Seasons - Carlton 44.7, Niekro 38.1

DRA - Niekro 3.96, Carlton 3.99
tIP - Nikero 5456.3, Carlton 5287.3

Pennants Added - Carlton 1.391 (#9), Niekro 1.344 (#10); rankings among eligible pitchers.

********

Niekro's peak is great - Carlton's is just better.

Top 5 seasons:

Carlton 12.2, 9.8, 8.3, 7.7, 6.6
Niekro,P 9.2, 7.9, 7.3, 7.2, 6.5

Those numbers include hitting.
   12. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: December 28, 2006 at 07:32 AM (#2269854)
BTW, I zero out seasons that are below replacement level for the WAR and RAR calcs. So Carlton's last 3 seasons don't bring his WAR total 'back to Niekro' or anything like that. They just count as nothing. I believe that anyone a GM or manager is willing to stick out there has at least replacement level value, by definition. I also don't think you can 'play your way out' of the Hall of Merit (or Hall of Fame).

It does count in the DRA, where Carlton dropped from 3.84 to 3.99 over those last 3 seasons.

Just wanted to clarify that if there was any question.
   13. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: December 28, 2006 at 07:34 AM (#2269856)
I think it's particularly telling in your numbers KJOK, where Carlton loses 57 RSAA over his last 3 useless seasons.

Niekro lost 33 over his last 3 seasons.
   14. KJOK Posted: December 28, 2006 at 07:00 PM (#2270059)
I think it's particularly telling in your numbers KJOK, where Carlton loses 57 RSAA over his last 3 useless seasons.

Niekro lost 33 over his last 3 seasons.
Page 1 of 1 pages


I can somewhat understand 'zeroing out' bad years when trying to compare someone with 20 year career vs. 15 year career, but in comparing Carlton vs. Niekro those 'end' years where Niekro saved more runs count just as much towards winning as Carlton's advantage on the front end.
   15. Traderdave Posted: December 28, 2006 at 08:38 PM (#2270175)
that youtube was interesting -- MAN those guys were skinny back then
   16. Traderdave Posted: December 28, 2006 at 08:41 PM (#2270179)
that youtube was interesting -- MAN those guys were skinny back then
   17. DavidFoss Posted: December 28, 2006 at 08:50 PM (#2270191)
that youtube was interesting -- MAN those guys were skinny back then

:-)

While that no doubt is true (they used to think that bulking up would be bad for your swing), I think there is something weird about the aspect ratio of that video that was squishing people to look more vertical. Plus, this was the 82 Cards of McGee & OSmith.
   18. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 29, 2006 at 02:21 AM (#2270518)
they used to think that bulking up would be bad for your swing

Does anybody buy that old wives' tale anymore?
   19. Jose Canusee Posted: January 03, 2007 at 01:30 AM (#2272650)
they used to think that bulking up would be bad for your swing

Does anybody buy that old wives' tale anymore?

I have heard people say that there used to be more arm movement than body rotation even among power hitters of previous generations. If there was a beanball factor that kept batters further from the plate in the '60's, there might have been something to the idea that just building up arm strength without keeping flexibility could hurt you in being able to control the entire plate without diving into the pitch.
   20. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: January 03, 2007 at 03:28 PM (#2272886)
I have heard people say that there used to be more arm movement than body rotation even among power hitters of previous generations. If there was a beanball factor that kept batters further from the plate in the '60's, there might have been something to the idea that just building up arm strength without keeping flexibility could hurt you in being able to control the entire plate without diving into the pitch.

I remember reading some tip from Lefty O'Doul that said he carried rubber balls in his pockets and would squeeze them frequently to build wrist strength.

I think I've mentioned this before, but I have a totally unscientific theory about the evolution of hitting. I think hitters today lunge much less than they used to.

-My primary reason for this conclusion is skimpy: a few frames here and there of video of various players from old World Series reels and old highlights packages, each of which tend to show a much longer, lungier stride than a contemporary hitter.

-The second reason is that I remember my Little League coaches advising me to take a good-sized stride toward the pitcher/ball. That doesn't mean they were right, rather that I think they were using a coaching model that relied on conventional wisdom that either they grew up with or that was still in somewhat common practice in the mid-1980s. I think this was possibly mirrored by an announcer who I once heard say that hitters "throw their hands at the ball," which also supports Canusee's assertion in post 19. It wasn't until my last Little League season that I was coached to stay back and rotate around an imaginary axis formed by my spine.

-Thirdly, rotating around the imaginary axis is now the dominant hitting model. Most hitters now have a very short stride, and they use the power in their thighs, torso, and shoulders to biomechanically generate tremendous bat speed: they don't throw their hands at the ball, they use their bodies to create a whipping motion in their arms---in other words, the motion of the swing is not originated in the arms.

-A fourth and even more conjectural supposition goes like this: when pitchers pitched more complete games, they frequently coasted for long stretches of the game and didn't throw their best fastball except in a pinch (as this group discussed many election cycles ago), which may have meant that hitters had more time to see the ball, so they could afford to stride longer. Today's hitter is facing pitchers who throw all-out for six innings, then three guys who throw 95-97 MPH for the next three innings. The no-stride, turn-on-the-axis swing saves those precious moments, allows the hitter another nanosecond to react, gives him better coverage inside against the fastball, and maybe a little longer look at the split or slider.

-Finally and also conjuecturally, I think this shortening of swings is pretty recent. I think it must have happened gradually beginning in the late 1960s or early 1970s, was not universally adopted until old-timers started leaving the game, and became the dominant model in the late 1980s when younger players such as Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and soon Jeff Bagwell examplified the approach. I would take odds that two other important, concomitant factors drove or enabled the shortening of strides: the emergence of biomechanics as a scientific discipline and the widespread adoption of film/video-based swing analysis. Now on video players could see where they got jammed or had holes in their swing, and biomechanical ideas could help them find a solution. And that solution, ultimately turned out to be reducing the tendency to lunge and concentrating the bodies energy on making a full turn through the ball rather than using the arms.

Again, I could be wrong about all this, it's just a theory that's been clattering around the back of my brain for some time, and I'm kind of playing connect-the-dots with it, but it's kind of interesting to think about.
   21. Paul Wendt Posted: January 03, 2007 at 07:55 PM (#2273155)
I don't believe "lunge" refers to a stride toward the pitcher, or into the bucket.
   22. OCF Posted: January 03, 2007 at 10:36 PM (#2273380)
Well, yes, these are the 80's Cardinals, and those guys were skinny. (I always thought that the ultimate "generic" 80's Cardinal was Curt Ford: another skinny African-American, only his face isn't McGee or Ozzie or anyone else you'd recognize right away.) But I don't remember George Hendrick as that skinny - so maybe there is something fishy with the aspect ratio.

Hendrick is using an extreme closed stance. How many guys do you see doing that these days? That may be part of the "short stride" that Eric is referring to, but I can't honestly think of any current extreme closed stances. Does anyone remember the stance Jack Clark was using in 1987? I remember that he set up in an extreme closed stance and generated bat speed in part by opening up violently. I suppose that's a variant on "turn on an axis" but I don't see anyone now looking quite like that.

But to bring it back to Niekro: look at Ozzie's at bats, and consider what kind of hitter Ozzie was. He swung a fairly thick bat with very little bat speed, and he made contact with a very high proportion of his swings. It's the Tony Gwynn behavior pattern, albeit without Gwynn's physical skills. Look at how low Ozzie's strikeout rate was - this wasn't someone who did much swinging and missing. And in this video, he's swinging and missing badly. There's a tendency to think of knuckleballers as occupying some opposite pole to power pitchers becuase of the low average velocity - but what is a "power pitcher" anyway? Isn't it someone who relies on "stuff" and on being able to miss bats altogether? It sure looks like Niekro was relying on "stuff" and that he was missing plenty of bats.
   23. DL from MN Posted: January 18, 2007 at 09:47 PM (#2282725)
Decent Niekro article at SI.com

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/john_donovan/01/17/niekro.johnson/index.html
   24. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: January 19, 2007 at 01:04 AM (#2282811)
I always thought that the ultimate "generic" 80's Cardinal was Curt Ford: another skinny African-American, only his face isn't McGee or Ozzie or anyone else you'd recognize right away.

I bet Curt was happy that it wasn't Willie's. :-)
   25. rawagman Posted: February 10, 2007 at 06:18 PM (#2295271)
I just caught the following tidbit on www.hardballtimes.com.
http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-all-time-best-pitchers/
Dave Studeman has a stat he calls WSAB (Win Shares Above Bench), and using that stat (explained at the top of the page), Mr. Niekro comes up at number 10 of all time.
10. Phil Niekro (214 WSAB/374 WS): Maddux may have been unique and Spahn may have had a long career, but Niekro beats them on both counts. He's another guy who didn't make the majors until he was 25, but that's okay. He pitched until he was 48.

As you might imagine, Niekro's credentials are all about career length, the benefit of mastering the mighty knuckleball. Niekro is tenth in WSAB but 67th in All Star Win Shares. His favorite park must have been Candlestick, where the gusty winds could add a little twist to his knuckleball. In fact, his career ERA at Candlestick was 2.37 (in 235 innings).
   26. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: February 11, 2007 at 03:26 AM (#2295425)
Anyone have an estimate for how many extra home runs Fulton County Stadium made Niekro give up?

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
Darren
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Syndicate

Page rendered in 0.2372 seconds
49 querie(s) executed